When I teach my cookie decorating classes, I start off by sharing the process of how I make my cookies and royal icing. My first suggestion is always "Don't try to do everything in one day!" If you have ever attempted to make decorated cookies, you know that it is time consuming and a lot of work. Spread out the process over several days and it will be a lot more fun and manageable, I promise!
I'm always making tweaks to the recipes I use, but I think I've finally landed on the perfect version for a Classic Sugar Cookie, so I'm sharing it with you today. (You can download/print a copy of the recipe here.) Before you even get started, you'll want to read through this post and the recipe, then make sure you have all your ingredients and tools ready. I've shared my preferred brands in this resource list (please note the list and this post contain some affiliate links). I only specify a brand when I believe it is essential to making the best quality cookies.
There is a link to a video at the end of the post that walks you through the process. While the video is only about 12 minutes in length, the actual cookie making process usually takes me an hour for 2-3 dozen cookies. Making the dough is pretty quick, but you have to factor in time for rolling it out, freezing it, cutting the shapes, and then baking. Nothing about decorated cookies is fast, so I want to make sure I'm setting your expectations appropriately.
First things first- make sure that your butter is room temperature. Do NOT microwave the butter to make it softer. Leave it out on the counter unwrapped for at least an hour, and it should be good to go. While the better is softening, gather the other ingredients.
Measure your flour and salt in a large bowl, then whisk together. I recommend spooning flour into your measuring cup instead of scooping it out from the bag or container. This ensures that you don't use too much, which can result in dry cookies. Loose measuring is better when it comes to flour.
In the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer, cream the butter for a minute or two, and then add the sugar. You want it to be light, fluffy, and well mixed before adding the other ingredients. I usually turn up the speed to medium (4) for a good two to three minutes.
You'll see in the video that I mention cracking the eggs in a separate bowl. This prevents getting egg shells in your batter. Mix in the eggs, and then add the flavorings. The vanilla bean paste that I use is definitely on the expensive side (thanks to a vanilla bean shortage), but I truly believe it adds an authentic vanilla taste. For the lemon zest- I don't have a specific measurement. I just use a small/medium lemon and zest away. The vanilla bean paste and lemon zest make for a very pretty dough!
After the flavorings are mixed in, it's time to add the flour. Adding it in 3 separate amounts makes it easy to blend, but sometimes I get impatient and do it in two (like in the video). It helps to cover the bowl with a towel so that flour doesn't spray out all over your kitchen. That may have happened once or three times, and it's never pretty. After you have the flour all added, crank it up to a 4 or a 6 and blend it just enough so that it sticks to your paddle attachment. You don't want to over mix, as that can toughen the dough. You want it to just stick together so it's easy to wrap up.
When the dough is ready, wrap it well in saran wrap. If you plan to bake the cookies on the same day, just leave the dough out to rest for about 15 minutes. You can also place the dough in a ziplock bag and leave it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or the freezer for a few weeks.
If you're ready to roll out the cookies, there are some key tools you'll need:
A good rolling pin
Cookie Baking Sheets
I use flat dowels from a DoughEZ set that I ordered a couple of years ago. The mat works fine, but I like my Genie UltiMat better (it's SUPER easy to clean). Alternatively, you can buy an adjustable rolling pin with removable discs on it. Personally I have found that I prefer a rolling pin that does not have handles. I've broken two already, but the one pictured below has lasted for two years and still going strong.
As shown in the video, I roll out sheets of dough and place them in the freezer. This makes it easier to cut out shapes with sharp edges. After I have cut out the shapes, the sheets go back in to the freezer before being baked. This helps prevent spreading.
Since moving to a new house, I've had to make adjustments to the oven temperature and baking time. Apparently my old oven ran hot, and the new one I'm still trying to figure out. When I have it on 350°, it can take 14-15 minutes to bake larger cookies. It's just one of those things where you have to watch and get to know your oven to find the right amount of time (unfortunately).
Allow the cookies to cool completely before decorating. As mentioned above, I really suggest making dough and cookies one day, making and coloring icing on another day, and then decorating on a third/fourth. So wrap those cookies up and put them in an airtight container until you're ready to use them.
If you have questions about my recipe/process, please don't hesitate to ask. I'd love to hear feedback if you try it!
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